- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rondo registered 22 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals as the Boston Celtics topped the Miami Heat 107-102 Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Rondo, whose comments to the Boston Herald hinted at possible friction in the Celtics' locker room, ensured a room full of smiles after Wednesday's performance in which he helped shoulder the load without injured captain Paul Pierce (day to day, sprained left mid-foot).
The fourth-year point guard, who was named to his first All-Star team this month, outdueled six-time All-Star Dwyane Wade, who finished with 30 points, 13 assists and 4 rebounds. Wade finished with six turnovers, including a costly pick-pocket by Tony Allen in the final minute, while Rondo lost the ball only three times.
"[Rondo] was great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "There was one stretch in the second quarter where he controlled the game. It was almost like Wade was in control at one end, Rondo at the other."
It's no secret that the Boston and Miami offenses go through Rondo and Wade, respectively. Wade entered Wednesday's game having made or assisted on 43 percent of the Heat's field goals this season -- the third-highest mark in the NBA behind LeBron James (49 percent) and Steve Nash (44 percent). Rondo was next on that list at 42 percent.
So there was Rondo when the Heat made a fourth-quarter charge. With Boston clinging to a two-point lead with 8:33 to play, Rondo fed Ray Allen for a trifecta that sparked a 9-1 burst; the lead grew to double digits when Rondo fed Kendrick Perkins with a no-look pass for a layup and an 88-78 advantage with 6:35 to play.
When Miami quickly knocked the lead back down to two, Rondo again went to work, this time feeding Eddie House for a monster 3-pointer to start a 7-0 explosion that essentially sealed the game.
But apparently we've become numb to Rondo's exploits. The first question Rivers fielded about his point guard from the media after the game centered on Rondo finishing 8 of 14 at the free-throw line. Such are the perils of being an All-Star. Perfection is expected.
For his part, Rondo said he didn't put any additional pressure on himself without Pierce in the lineup.
"No, I think we need to collectively [step up] as a team," said Rondo. "Early on Doc called my number a little earlier than usual. It usually starts in the third. The first quarter I think we got a little stagnant offensively, so I just tried to break the defense down and make some plays early on like I did in the Lakers game."
Rondo succeeded; he had 8 points and 4 assists after the first quarter, and a team-high 12 points and 8 assists at the half. His unselfish play rubbed off on his teammates with Kevin Garnett registering a season-high six first-half assists (he finished with nine).
"[Ball movement] was contagious," said Rondo. "It started when we first came out, first play of the game, you know we moved the ball.
KG, you look up, he had six at halftime. When guys are moving the ball, we are a great team, we are fun to watch. I just can't give our guys enough credit, we shared the ball tonight and played very unselfishly."
Clearly sharing was contagious. When Rondo was asked about his chemistry comments that sparked plenty of chatter about potential problems in a land where "Ubuntu" is king, Garnett told Rondo to pass the ball to him.
"Let me saying something," said Garnett. "I'm not speaking for [Rondo], but on this team we have a lot of strong personalities. At the end of the day, we're all seeking, especially when you lose, man, I remember we lost to Portland, we lost three straight, I could just sense that everybody, within themselves, was trying to do more than they should, or reverting back to being leaders on this team versus the way we have been doing it.
"When I read the comments, I talked to him personally because, we have a lot of personal conversations. We're not a team here to point fingers, we keep everybody accountable, everybody knows what this is in the locker room. If we have anything that needs to be said, it will be said in closed confinement of the locker room and among each other as men. I want everyone to respect that, all right?"
Rondo simply smiled and added, "Word." After all, he did all his talking on the court.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann